Policy Papers and Research

Mathematics Teaching Project - Factors Influencing Success

The Training and Teaching of mathematics is matter of teacher subject knowledge and pedagogy.  But its implementation in the school context is a matter of organisation and authority.

For an intervention to improve the quality of mathematics in a school to succeed, it is essential that the project design include both these dimensions:  the Mathematics teacher and the wider school organisational context.

This article provides examples of the dynamics and planning required of a typical school intervention programme to gain traction.

To achieve the intended outcome, the project design needs to acknowledge that improved mathematics is a curriculum outcome that extends beyond the narrow objective of raising the individual teacher’s expertise.  Curriculum delivery is ultimately a whole school matter, in which the focus is on both the individual teacher’s capability and the overall institutional capacity to support and deliver curriculum outcomes.

It is a sobering reality that investment in raising the quality of an individual teacher’s subject knowledge and pedagogy can be negated by institutional factors in the school context.  In fact, no teacher functions optimally in isolation and independent of the institutional arrangements that carry the curriculum.

For an intervention to succeed therefore attention needs to be directed at the following institutional factors as well as the support given directly to the teachers:  securing support or buy-in at school governance and senior management levels, incorporating strong lines of internal accountability and organisational reporting (not just outward accountability of the teacher to the project leaders).  A supportive environment, in terms of policy and practice, should be facilitated within the school to encourage cooperation and support with other role players, such as colleagues and SMT.  Special attention needs to be directed proactively towards securing an enabling school environment and avoiding or overcoming possible resistance within the school.  All this requires active and specific leadership and management support from the Principal and SMT.  Overall, participants in an intervention programme should be correctly primed and provided with a sense of ‘buy-in’ to the project.

Here are some of the main ingredients that give content and direction to an intervention:

  • Firstly, the target group should be carefully selected and provided with the appropriate resources, stimulation, materials and software. Training and capacity building either off site or on-site mentoring with recipients will form an integral part of the intervention. Focus should be on providing them with subject knowledge and pedagogy (the ‘How’ part of teaching). They should complete the programme equipped with new skills and a new capacity that represent an investment in their development.
  • Secondly, the participants need to understand the expectations of the investment that is being made in them as educators.  This will help them to understand the need for the training. They should be advised how best to utilise the knowledge and materials that they have gained through the programme, and how to incorporate these professional practices within the classroom environment on a daily basis. The participants should be made aware that the intervention is aimed at supporting delivery of the curriculum and therefore outcomes must be indexed to the curriculum and should be supported by the necessary academic administration - such as assessment, record keeping and reporting. Participants should also be encouraged to use their newly acquired knowledge to assist with professional networking, both within the school context and outside of it.
  • Thirdly, as indicated, there are certain key enabling factors within the school that are absolutely essential for a successful intervention programme. The fundamental systems, processes and procedures for school functionality must be place. Success of the intervention is a collaborative endeavour that requires ‘enabling’ between role players.  It is helpful to look at this as a relationship matrix with at least three main components: The mathematics educator, presenters of the programme and the whole school context (represented by the Principal and SMT).

In the case of a subject matter intervention, the classrooms should have the necessary infrastructural requirements in place for equipment like laptops, data projectors and screens to be optimally utilised. There also needs to be transparent and fair scheduling within the school organisation with regard to the sharing of equipment between classrooms. Security is a vital dimension: equipment should be stored in secure areas of the school, while still being easily accessible, and there should be good technical support available. Educators should be provided with supervision and scheduled support sessions. School policies should also encourage the utilisation of technology to create a richer learning environment.

To summarise, an intervention requires commitment, action and accountability at two levels of the institution:  from both the individual teacher and the leadership and management of the school.  The implications for each are the following:

The TEACHER must:


  • A teacher must follow these six steps in order to present the curriculum competently:




In this way a school will be able to embody and prove the simple truth:  Findings from research (such as ‘Schools That Work’) indicate that high-performing schools do nothing out of the ordinary—they simply do ordinary things extraordinarily well. They simply do what they are supposed to do, exactly how they are supposed to do it, when they are supposed to do it.

Written by:
Andre Forbes (Education Specialist)
Former Teacher; Project Management Specialist and Consultant For Siyawela; Project Manager – Old Mutual / Siyawela Community of Practise

Tags: Maths and Science Research and reports